Despite standing just 5-foot-9, Nate Robinson is the NBA slam dunk contest’s only three-time champion. He’s swatted LeBron James. He’s swatted Yao Ming. He’s averaged as many as 17 points per game in an NBA season. He’s electrified arenas from Los Angeles to Toronto to Miami while becoming a basketball fan-favorite.
Robinson is also, at the moment, unemployed. So what’s an out-of-work hooper to do? If you’re Robinson, you turn up on Instagram to tout your services.
About a week ago, James said his Cleveland Cavaliers need to add talent if they hope to repeat as NBA champs. He said the Cavs need a “fucking playmaker,” to be precise. As it often does with such tidbits, ESPN posted a photo of James alongside his quote on Instagram. Below the post someone left a comment: “Nate Robinson is available.”
The comment was left by Robinson himself.
A couple days later, Robinson posted an Instagram photo referencing internal strife among the Chicago Bulls, one of his eight former teams. Robinson accompanied that photo with a caption again offering his talents.
He’s likely the most accomplished former NBA star to job-hunt on Instagram, but Robinson contends the market has left him little choice.
“I really didn’t want to do it,” Robinson said in a phone interview. “But it’s just like, how do they invite other players in for workouts and not consider bringing in a Nate Robinson to come in and work out and compete for a spot?”
Robinson, who just finished a workout before we got off the phone, trains in his native Seattle as he awaits his next shot.
The New Orleans Pelicans waived him two games into last season, in October 2015. He then played in just over a dozen games for an Israeli pro team last spring. His last approximation of a full NBA season came in 2014-15, when he averaged almost six points in 42 games for two teams. The three prior seasons, he averaged double figures in scoring for three different teams.
Stats don’t quite capture Robinson’s impact in the fan imagination, though. He’s as short on shyness as he is on height, with a internet highlight portfolio full of freewheeling drives and explosive dunks that can eat up half your workday. From a pure entertainment perspective, it’s easy to argue the NBA is more fun with Nate Robinson. He is, after all, the first player to have his jersey retired at its loosey-goosey summer league.
Robinson said a team should “let me bring what I bring that’s fire, that’s passion, that’s getting buckets, that’s making my teammates around me better.”
So what’s the problem? The 32-year-old Robinson has considered the situation from all angles.
He’s well-liked: “I’ve never heard from any one of my teammates that I’ve been a bad teammate.”
He’s a proven scorer: “I averaged 10 or more points for almost every team I played for. “
He’s a good citizen: “Other players on other teams have done way worse things than anything I ever have.”
Robinson believes the problem is difficulty discarding his image as an ebullient personality who can have trouble focusing or taking things seriously.
“I’ve been that immature Nate, I’ve been that person,” he said. “Trying to shake that tag has been the hardest thing. But I’ve learned how to turn it on and turn it off, when to be goofy and when to be serious.”
The quest for an NBA return isn’t financially motivated, Robinson said. If the NBA well does prove dry, he’s ready to play overseas again or even consider working his way back up via the NBA Development League. Teams have until April 14 to set their playoff rosters.
“I just want to play basketball, man,” he said. “Everything else comes after that.”